If you're just popping in on this November series, you can catch up here.
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On Saturday, I included two passages in which Jesus tells people the two greatest commandments. Today, I'd like to take a look at the second greatest commandment: Love your neighbor as yourself. Let's begin by reading this parable again:
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” Luke 10:25-37
Oh interesting, I hadn't noticed on Saturday that it is the expert in the law and not Jesus who says the to greatest commandments. So he knew. But, as the passage says, he wanted to "justify" himself, so asked Jesus to explain what "neighbor" means.
Does that little question lurk in the back of our brains too? Lord, give me the parameters? I want to get it right, but don't want to have to get too dirty or be changed. Give me the bare minimum. I'm your man!
Jesus is happy to answer the man's question and does so with a little story we call a parable. I have heard this one so many times, I'm surprised at how simple it is. I think the only extra thing I want to add to it, for explanation's sake is: Jews hated Samaritans, making Jesus' choice of "good-guy" a strategic one.
With that, I give you a bullet list of the implications of this story:
- Loving our neighbor honors God more than ceremonial religious behavior. The priest and Levite had religious reasons for not getting mixed up with blood and a potentially dead body; God doesn't want them to be unclean. Cleanliness and purity are important to God, but clearly do not give us permission to harden our heart toward someone in need.
Will I let my quiet time be interrupted by a child who needs attention? On my way to church, especially if I'm late, will I stop to help a stranger who clearly is in need? Will I let my religion be ruffled?
- Loving our neighbor means viewing others through a lens of mercy. We all have plenty of opinionated judgment ready to spew all over others, don't we? They got themselves into this mess, why should I help get them out? But, in this story, we see that we're not supposed to ask questions. We must be merciful, take pity, be kind ... love the Lord and love our neighbor! The beaten man needed help. The Samarity responded because he took pity on him. What if I were in his shoes, what would I want someone to do for me?
Will I remember how much mercy I have been shown and let it permeate the way I interact with others? Will I zip my lips, withhold judgment, and be compassionate because I have known great compassion?
- Loving our neighbor means doing what is right. In the parable, the Samaritan did the right thing. The right thing was to respond to the need in front of him. Surely he, too, had things to do and was on a journey somewhere. But he saw a need and responded. That is the right thing to do. It can be easy to ignore needs in front of us in favor of other important things we need to do.
Will I ask the Spirit to speak to me, to nudge me to action in love thy neighbor situations? When He does, will I respond?
- Loving our neighbor means going the extra mile. The Samaritan is such an amazing example for us. He doesn't just call 911, wait for help to arrive, then hit the road. He takes the man to a place for good care, leaves money to cover the expenses, and comes back to check on the man later. Above and beyond!
Will I do more than is immediately asked of me because Christ has done the same for me?
* * *
I think we like to make things more complicated than they need to be. In this story, Jesus doesn't give the impression that we are to run out and look for opportunities to show mercy, to love our neighbor. He simply asks the expert, "Which one was the neighbor?" The answer? The one who had mercy on him.
"Go and do likewise," Jesus says.
Do what likewise?
Have mercy on people. Not only people who are bloody, beaten, and left for dead, but anyone with whom you cross paths with TODAY to whom you can lend a hand, say a word of encouragement, give generously, listen with interest and concern, or interact kindly. (Especially when you'd rather carry on with your own thing, tell them to suck it up and deal, and keep your time, energy, and money for yourself.)
Love the Lord your God today with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength as you love your neighbor as yourself. Whoever that may be: your spouse, a coworker, one of your kids, a cashier, a stranger on the corner, or your neighbor next door.
Boy, I sure needed this reminder today:
Go and do likewise!